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The Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds

Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that the standard prescription for weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories you consume.

But a new study, published Tuesday in JAMA, may turn that advice on its head. It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.

The strategy worked for people whether they followed diets that were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. And their success did not appear to be influenced by their genetics or their insulin-response to carbohydrates, a finding that casts doubt on the increasingly popular idea that different diets should be recommended to people based on their DNA makeup or on their tolerance for carbs or fat.

The research lends strong support to the notion that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run. It also suggests that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage Americans to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“This is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States,” said Dr. Mozaffarian, who was not involved in the new study. “It’s time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting.”

The new research was published in JAMA and led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It was a large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups.

Dr. Gardner and his colleagues designed the study to compare how overweight and obese people would fare on low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. But they also wanted to test the hypothesis — suggested by previous studies — that some people are predisposed to do better on one diet over the other depending on their genetics and their ability to metabolize carbs and fat. A growing number of services have capitalized on this idea by offering people personalized nutrition advice tailored to their genotypes.

The researchers recruited adults from the Bay Area and split them into two diet groups, which were called “healthy” low carb and “healthy” low fat. Members of both groups attended classes with dietitians where they were trained to eat nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods, cooked at home whenever possible.

Soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread are technically low in fat, for example, but the low-fat group was told to avoid those things and eat foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, fresh fruit and legumes. The low-carb group was trained to choose nutritious foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods.

The participants were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity but did not generally increase their exercise levels, Dr. Gardner said. In classes with the dietitians, most of the time was spent discussing food and behavioral strategies to support their dietary changes.

The new study stands apart from many previous weight-loss trials because it did not set extremely restrictive carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits on people and emphasized that they focus on eating whole or “real” foods — as much as they needed to avoid feeling hungry.

“The unique thing is that we didn’t ever set a number for them to follow,” Dr. Gardner said.

Of course, many dieters regain what they lose, and this study cannot establish whether participants will be able to sustain their new habits. While people on average lost a significant amount of weight in the study, there was also wide variability in both groups. Some people gained weight, and some lost as much as 50 to 60 pounds. Dr. Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight reported that the study had “changed their relationship with food.” They no longer ate in their cars or in front of their television screens, and they were cooking more at home and sitting down to eat dinner with their families, for example.

“We really stressed to both groups again and again that we wanted them to eat high-quality foods,” Dr. Gardner said. “We told them all that we wanted them to minimize added sugar and refined grains and eat more vegetables and whole foods. We said, ‘Don’t go out and buy a low-fat brownie just because it says low fat. And those low-carb chips — don’t buy them, because they’re still chips and that’s gaming the system.’”

In a new study, people who ate lots of vegetables and whole foods
rather than processed ones lost weight without worrying about calories or portion size.

Dr. Gardner said many of the people in the study were surprised — and relieved — that they did not have to restrict or even think about calories.

“A couple weeks into the study people were asking when we were going to tell them how many calories to cut back on,” he said. “And months into the study they said, ‘Thank you! We’ve had to do that so many times in the past.’”

Calorie counting has long been ingrained in the prevailing nutrition and weight loss advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, tells people who are trying to lose weight to “write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day,” while making an effort to restrict the amount of calories they eat and increasing the amount of calories they burn through physical activity.

“Weight management is all about balancing the number of calories you take in with the number your body uses or burns off,” the agency says.

Yet the new study found that after one year of focusing on food quality, not calories, the two groups lost substantial amounts of weight. On average, the members of the low-carb group lost just over 13 pounds, while those in the low-fat group lost about 11.7 pounds. Both groups also saw improvements in other health markers, like reductions in their waist sizes, body fat, and blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

The researchers took DNA samples from each subject and analyzed a group of genetic variants that influence fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Ultimately the subjects’ genotypes did not appear to influence their responses to the diets.

The researchers also looked at whether people who secreted higher levels of insulin in response to carbohydrate intake — a barometer of insulin resistance — did better on the low-carb diet. Surprisingly, they did not, Dr. Gardner said, which was somewhat disappointing.

“It would have been sweet to say we have a simple clinical test that will point out whether you’re insulin resistant or not and whether you should eat more or less carbs,” he added.

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study did not support a “precision medicine” approach to nutrition, but that future studies would be likely to look at many other genetic factors that could be significant. He said the most important message of the study was that a “high quality diet” produced substantial weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs did not matter, which is consistent with other studies, including many that show that eating healthy fats and carbs can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

“The bottom line: Diet quality is important for both weight control and long-term well-being,” he said.

Dr. Gardner said it is not that calories don’t matter. After all, both groups ultimately ended up consuming fewer calories on average by the end of the study, even though they were not conscious of it. The point is that they did this by focusing on nutritious whole foods that satisfied their hunger.

“I think one place we go wrong is telling people to figure out how many calories they eat and then telling them to cut back on 500 calories, which makes them miserable,” he said. “We really need to focus on that foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains.”

By ANAHAD O’CONNOR      FEB. 20, 2018
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The Hidden Influences That Shape Our Eating Habits

The New Year has barely begun and already your plans to eat more healthfully are skidding off track. You couldn’t help but devour the holiday chocolates. You’ve nibbled your way to the bottom of a bag of chips, without even really enjoying them. And that kale you’ve been meaning to eat? It’s wilting in your vegetable crisper. But don’t fret. Your willpower is probably just fine.

There’s a whole host of external factors that determine what and how you eat, from what’s written on the packaging and the colour of your dinnerware to the noise level of your surrounding environment. That’s the focus of Dr. Rachel Herz’s new book Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship With Food, which looks at the many influences on the way we consume and experience food.

Herz is a neuroscientist known for her work on the psychology of smell. She teaches at Brown University and Boston College, and has authored the previous books The Scent of Desire and That’s Disgusting. Her latest book offers support for the notion that many of the problems we experience with food, from overeating to picky eating, aren’t moral failings. We can’t simply will ourselves to eat less or expand our palates – our relationship with food is much more complicated than that. Whether we think a food item is decadent or low-calorie can affect how our bodies respond to it; our appetites are often influenced by the people we’re with; and how familiar we are with certain foods determines how filling they seem.

But understanding these factors allows us to manipulate them to our advantage, Herz says.

“This book should make people feel that they have the power. They can take back the meal,” she says. “What I’m hoping is that people can see how they can use this information to change their relationship with food.”

Herz spoke with The Globe and Mail about hidden factors that shape our meals, including a little-known factor that makes airplane food taste so bland.

‘Healthy’ labels

How they influence you: It’s probably no surprise that when a food item is labelled “healthy,” people tend to eat more of it. Might as well have two helpings of ice cream if it’s “low-calorie,” right? But just thinking something is healthy can actually change your body’s response to it – and not necessarily in a desirable way.

The science: Herz describes a Yale University study in which participants were given the same 340-calorie vanilla milkshake, labelled two different ways. For one group, the milkshake was called “Indulgence” and labelled as containing 620 calories. For the other, it was called “Sensi-shake,” and labelled as having zero-per-cent fat, no added sugar and 140 calories.

Those who drank the “Indulgence” shake experienced an immediate surge in the hunger-signalling hormone ghrelin after an initial taste. But a half-hour later, their ghrelin levels plummeted three times more than in those who drank the “Sensi-shake,” whose ghrelin levels remained flat. That means simply believing they were drinking a high-calorie shake made participants’ bodies respond accordingly; they felt less hungry, regardless of the actual calorie content.

The take-away: 

“If … you’re interested in not having your body pack on every calorie that’s in the food, you should approach all food as it being decadent, to the extent that you can,” Herz says.

Familiar foods

How they influence you: What makes food filling? Besides attributes such as being high in fat, providing roughage and being served in solid form instead of as a liquid, Herz says there’s also a psychological factor at play: The more familiar a food is to you, the more satiating it seems.

The science: Herz points to a study from the University of Bristol in which participants were shown pictures of various common foods, all in 200-calorie portions, and asked how often they ate them. Then they were asked how filling they thought each food was. Participants rated the foods they consumed most frequently as most filling.

The take-away: Familiar foods act as a signifier that you’ve eaten or that you’re satisfied with what you consume, Herz says, which explains why individuals accustomed to eating rice may only feel full when they’ve had rice, or why those accustomed to eating meat and potatoes don’t feel a meal is complete without those staples. She suggests you can use this to your advantage to train yourself to feel satisfied with eating vegetables.

“If after your lunch, you have a couple celery sticks or a couple carrot sticks or whatever, then that sort of becomes a psychological marker for being full and being done eating,” she says.

Colours

How they influence you: Remember Pepsi-Cola’s failed colourless Crystal Pepsi? Or Heinz’s short-lived green ketchup? Colour has a big impact on how we experience food, and whether we’re willing to consume it. But the colour red, in particular, can influence us in multiple ways, Herz says. Since we associate red with the colour of ripe fruit, it can make food taste sweeter, yet since it is also a signal for danger, it can curb mindless snacking.

The science: Herz describes a German study that invited participants to help themselves to pretzels, presented on either a blue, white or red plate, while they were asked to fill in a questionnaire. Those who were served pretzels on the red plate ate half as many pretzels as those who were offered them on blue or white plates.

“Red works to kind of alert you, first of all,” which can make you more mindful of what you’re eating, Herz explains. “And at the same time, it also makes you potentially question: Should you consume?”

The take-away: If you want to reduce absent-minded nibbling, choose a red plate, Herz suggests. But she says, if your goal is to try to encourage eating, avoid using red dishes and serving vessels.

Sounds

How they influence you: The loud, continuous hum inside an airplane dampens your perception of saltiness and sweetness, which contributes to the lacklustre taste of airplane food, Herz says. Yet the volume doesn’t alter your sense of bitterness, so bitterness may be amplified, and it actually intensifies the taste of umami, or savoury brothy flavours, which explains why tomato juice is such a popular inflight beverage choice.

The science: There are three cranial nerves that innervate our perception of taste, Herz explains. One in particular, the chorda tympani, also innervates our perception of hearing. It transmits taste information from the tongue to the brain, and crosses through the ear along the way, she says.

“Loudness actually influences the degree to which our taste buds are able to communicate with the brain and it alters our taste in specific ways.”

The take-away: Cranking up the volume can make an umami-rich meal more delicious, but you may want to turn it down in time for dessert.

WENCY LEUNG             JANUARY 8, 2018


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High Carb – Not Fat – Intake Linked To Greater Early Death Risk: Study

A large Canadian study is challenging conventional wisdom that says a low-fat diet is optimal for cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of premature death.

The McMaster University study of more than 135,000 people in 18 countries found that eating a moderate amount of all types of fat is linked to a reduced risk of early mortality compared to the much-touted low-fat diet — while consuming a high-carbohydrate diet is associated with an increased risk of dying early.

“Contrary to popular belief, increased consumption of dietary fats is associated with a lower risk of death,” said lead author Mahshid Dehghan, a nutrition epidemiologist at the Hamilton university’s Population Health and Research Institute.

“Those with a high-fat intake, about 30 per cent of energy intake, had a 23 per cent lower risk of mortality and an 18 per cent lower risk of stroke, compared to the low-intake group, which had 11 per cent energy from fat,” Dehghan said from Barcelona, where she presented the findings Tuesday to the European Society of Cardiology Congress.

“The association with lower mortality was also seen with all major types of fat, by which I mean saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.”

Saturated fat is found in meat and dairy products, while monounsaturated fat is contained in nuts, avocados, and vegetable and olive oils. Polyunsaturated fat is found in walnuts, sunflower and flax seeds, fish, corn, soybean and safflower oils.

Current global guidelines recommend that 50 to 65 per cent of daily calories come from carbohydrates, and less than 10 per cent from saturated fats. But Dehghan said that advice is mostly based on evidence from studies in North America and Europe.

Cardiovascular disease is a global epidemic, with 80 per cent of the burden of disease in low- and middle-income countries. Diet is a key modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease, experts say.

Dehghan said the healthiest diet would be made up of 50 to 55 per cent carbohydrates and 35 per cent total fat, including both saturated and unsaturated types.

“We found no evidence that below 10 per cent of energy from saturated fat is beneficial — and going below seven per cent is even harmful,” she said, adding that a diet containing 10 to 13 per cent of energy from saturated fat was found to be beneficial.

A diet that provides more than 60 per cent of energy from carbohydrates — one common among populations in China and South Asia — was associated with a 28 per cent higher risk of premature death, researchers found.

“The message of our study is moderation as opposed to very low or very high intake in consumption of both fats and carbohydrates.”
“We’re not advocating an extreme diet,” agreed co-author Andrew Mente. “We’re not saying that people should go on a low-carb, very high-fat diet because we didn’t find any benefit with a very low-carb diet either.

“There’s a sweet spot for carbohydrates, which is about 55 per cent of energy intake.”

The PURE (Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology) study was published Tuesday in The Lancet. In a linked commentary in the journal, Drs. Christopher Ramsden and Anthony Domenichiello of the U.S. National Institute on Aging called the research “an impressive undertaking that will contribute to public health for years to come.”
“The relationships between diet, cardiovascular disease and death are topics of major public health importance…. Initial PURE findings challenge conventional diet-disease tenets that are largely based on observational associations in European and North American populations, adding to the uncertainty about what constitutes a healthy diet. This uncertainty is likely to prevail until well-designed randomized controlled trials are done.”

Mente, also a nutrition epidemiologist at the Population Health and Research Institute, was lead author of a second analysis from the PURE study presented Tuesday at the cardiology meeting.

That paper — one of three from PURE published in The Lancet — found that eating three to four servings of fruit, vegetables and legumes per day reduces the risk of premature death.

“And consuming higher amounts, pretty much you have the same level of risk,” Mente said from Barcelona. “There’s no added benefit with consuming more than four servings.
“This is important because existing guidelines recommend that people consume at least five servings per day, which is less affordable in the poorer countries because fruits and vegetables — particularly fruits — are more expensive as a proportion of people’s incomes.”

Lower-income Canadians may also be unable to afford the five to 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables recommended in the country’s Food Guide.

“So what our study shows is you can achieve maximum benefit through fruits and vegetables and legumes, and it’s also affordable at the same time.”

Mente said the study also showed raw vegetables appear to confer greater health benefits than those that are cooked because of a loss of nutrients from being exposed to heat.

With the federal government in the process of revamping Canada’s Food Guide, the research could be a timely addition to consultations on what Canadians should be eating, Mente suggested.

“We would hope that independent thinkers perhaps reconsider the guidelines and look at our data, and perhaps rather than putting limits on total fat and saturated fat, perhaps we should be putting limits on the amount of carbohydrates that people consume.”

SHERYL UBELACKER     TORONTO    THE CANADIAN PRESS    AUGUST 29, 2017


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Kids Who Skip Breakfast May Miss Key Nutrients

Children who skip breakfast on a regular basis are likely to fall short for the day in getting all their recommended essential nutrients, a UK study suggests.

Kids who skipped breakfast every day were less likely to get enough iron, calcium, iodine and folate when compared to kids who ate breakfast every day, the research team found.

“A greater proportion of those children who ate breakfast met their recommended intakes of these micronutrients compared to breakfast skippers,” coauthors Gerda Pot and Janine Coulthard of Kings College London told Reuters Health in an email interview.

“These findings suggest that eating breakfast could play an important role in ensuring that a child consumes enough of these key micronutrients,” Pot and Coulthard said.

Though older children were more likely to skip breakfast, the day’s nutrient shortfall was greater when younger children missed the morning meal.

“Our research indicated that although lower proportions of 4-to-10-year-olds skipped breakfast regularly compared to 11-to-18-year-olds, greater differences in micronutrient intakes were seen in the younger age group when comparing days on which they ate breakfast with days on which they skipped it. It may, therefore, be particularly important to ensure that this younger age group eats a healthy breakfast, either at home or at a school breakfast club.”

Researchers examined four-day food diaries for almost 1,700 children ages 4 to 18. The information was taken from a yearly national diet and nutrition survey between 2008 and 2012.

Breakfast was defined as consuming more than 100 calories between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.

Overall, about 31 percent of kids ate breakfast daily, 17 percent never ate breakfast, and the rest ate it some days and skipped it on others. In this group, the researchers also compared differences in nutrient intake by the same child on different days.

The team found that 6.5 percent of kids aged 4 to 10 missed breakfast every day, compared with nearly 27 percent of 11-to-18-year-olds.

Girls were more likely to miss breakfast than boys, and household income tended to be higher for families of children who ate breakfast every day.

More than 30 percent of kids who skipped breakfast did not get enough iron during the day, compared to less than 5 percent of kids who ate breakfast, the researchers report in British Journal of Nutrition.

Around 20 percent of breakfast skippers were low on calcium and iodine, compared to roughly 3 percent of kids who ate breakfast.

About 7 percent of children who skipped breakfast were low in folate, compared to none in the groups that ate breakfast.

Fat intake went up when kids skipped breakfast, researchers found.

Kids who skipped breakfast didn’t seem to compensate by eating more calories later in the day. In fact, kids who didn’t eat breakfast ended up eating the same number or fewer total calories as kids who ate breakfast every day.

Making sure kids eat breakfast appears to be more difficult in the older age group, who are possibly less receptive to parental supervision, Pot and Coulthard said.

“One tactic would be to get children involved in making breakfast, maybe even preparing something the night before if time is short in the morning.”

The authors noted there are a wealth of healthy, simple and tasty recipe ideas available on social media that children can choose from, adding that kids might even like to post a picture of their creations online.

Shereen Lehman      Reuters Health      AUGUST 24, 2017
SOURCE: bit.ly/2wjszk0  British Journal of Nutrition, online August 17, 2017     reuters.com


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Health Canada Considers Sweeping Ban On Junk Food Ads Aimed At Children And Teens

Government is also revising the Canada Food Guide to include foods that should be avoided altogether

The junk food advertising ban for everyone under the age of 17 would cover most cheeses and foods that are high in fat and salt such as chips, frozen waffles, fruit juice and even granola bars.

Health Canada is considering a widespread ban on the marketing of unhealthy food to kids under the age of 17. It could cover everything from TV, online and print advertising to product labelling, in-store displays and even end some sponsorships for sports teams.

The federal government announced the first step in St. John’s this morning by launching public consultations on how foods are marketed to kids in Canada.

“Most of the foods that are marketed to kids are these ones that are high in fat, high in sugar, high in sodium, so that’s what we’re looking at,” said Hasan Hutchinson, director general at Health Canada, who is overseeing the consultations.
“That would then cut out all of the things like, of course, your regular soda, most cookies, cakes, pies, puddings, ice cream, most cheeses because they are high in fat, they’re high in salt,” he said.

Health Canada would also target foods such as sugar-sweetened yogurt, frozen waffles, fruit juice, granola bars and potato chips.

The federal government looked at the Quebec ban on advertising to children, which has been in place since 1980.

In that province, companies can’t market unhealthy food to children under 13 years old. But Health Canada wants to go further, banning marketing to any person under 17.

“We know of course that children under 13 are particularly impressionable. But we feel that evidence is showing that teens [in the] 13- to 17-year-old age group are equally a vulnerable group,” Hutchinson said.

He points to the fact that many young teens have their own income for the first time, and are not as closely supervised by their parents.

Targeting high caffeine drinks

It is an argument Senator Nancy Greene Raine supports.

The Conservative senator introduced a private member’s bill last November that would have banned junk food advertising to children under 13.

But in her first appearance before the Senate committee studying her bill earlier this month, Greene Raine told senators she will be amending her bill to raise the age once it goes for clause-by-clause consideration.

‘Red Bull. Rockstar. These highly caffeinated soft drinks are working on the adolescents…but targetting them is really unhealthy,’
– Nancy Green Raine, Senator

“Some products that are being marketed to teenagers are, in my mind, very harmful. Red Bull. Rockstar. These highly caffeinated soft drinks are working on the adolescents — they like those products. But targeting them is really unhealthy,” Greene Raine said.

And she worries bad food choices made as teenagers lead to bad food choices in adulthood.

“A predilection to choosing foods high in sugar, salt, and fat as teenagers, can result in poor food choices for the rest of their lives,” said Greene Raine. “It’s recognized as one of the precursors to becoming overweight and obese, leading to all kinds of other chronic diseases.”

Sports teams

As part of the consultations, Health Canada is asking the public if the advertising ban should extend to sponsorships of sports teams.

Hutchinson said this is one area he thinks there could be some pushback from parents, who may believe sponsorships are critical for small sports teams to operate.

“They’re advertising because it has an effect. There’s a reason why they’re putting money into those sorts of programs,” Hutchinson said.

Greene Raine said she understands the link between sponsorships and sports — the senator won gold and silver medals for skiing at the 1968 Olympics, later becoming a spokesperson for Mars bars.

Still, Raine believes there should be some kind of limit on sponsorship of sports teams by companies that sell junk food.

“When you see things like: ‘wear your team jersey and come to our fast food outlet and we’ll give you a free slushie,’ that crosses the line,” Raine said.

Revising the Canada Food Guide

Health Canada is also launching a second round of consultations on the revised Canada Food Guide.

There were nearly 20,000 submissions in the first round of consultations in the fall of 2016, including 14,000 from the public.

The guide lists the foods Canadians should use as the foundation of a good diet, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

But for the first time, Health Canada is also listing the foods that should be avoided outright.

“What we’ve done is a special case on avoidance of processed or prepared beverages that are high in sugars, because based on our evidence reviews, we think we’ve got enough evidence to be as strong as that. We’ve never said anything quite that strong,” said Hutchinson.

On the naughty list: soft drinks, fruit-flavoured drinks including water, energy drinks and flavoured milks.

Susan Lunn · CBC News   June 10, 2017
source: www.cbc.ca


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Want to Lose Weight? You Should Stop Counting Calories

No more meal math: Eating high-quality foods—including plenty of fat—is the new golden rule of weight loss.

Keri Rabe, a 41-year-old elementary school librarian in Austin, Texas, used to be a hard-core calorie counter. Each day for a year, she logged everything she ate, squeezing in caloric space for twice-baked potatoes and tater tot casseroles by making them with low-fat dairy, believing fat would make her fat. She studied the menu before eating out at restaurants, choosing a dish by how many calories she had left for the day. “I thought for sure that was the only way to consistently lose weight,” she says. “I thought I’d have to do it for the rest of my life.”

By one measure, it worked; Rabe lost 10 pounds that year. But even though she met her goal, she was frustrated. She hated doing math before and after every meal, and even though she got away with eating low-quality food while losing weight, she still didn’t feel good—and she wasn’t satisfied.

So one day, Rabe stopped logging and went searching for a better path, not just to lose weight but to keep it off. “I was looking for a way I could eat for the rest of my life,” she says.

Rabe was about to learn what experts are now discovering: The quality of calories is what matters most for staying healthy, losing weight, and maintaining those results.

“When you eat the right quality and balance of foods, your body can do the rest on its own,” says David Ludwig, MD, an endocrinologist, researcher, and professor at Harvard Medical School, who wrote the 2016 weight-loss book Always Hungry? “You don’t have to count calories or go by the numbers.”

Outsmart your metabolism

The problem with foods that make people fat isn’t that they have too many calories, says Dr. Ludwig. It’s that they cause a cascade of reactions in the body that promote fat storage and make people overeat. Processed carbohydrates—foods like chips, soda, crackers, and even white rice—digest quickly into sugar and increase levels of the hormone insulin.

“Insulin is like Miracle-Gro for your fat cells,” explains Dr. Ludwig. It directs cells to snap up calories in the blood and store them as fat, leaving the body feeling hungry in a hurry. This is why it’s so easy to devour a big bag of chips and still feel famished.

Repeat this cycle too many times and your metabolism will start working against you. What’s more, “when humans try to reduce their calorie balance, the body fights back,” says Dr. Ludwig. This happens in two ways: Metabolism slows in order to keep calories around longer, and you begin to feel hungrier. “This combination of rising hunger and slowing metabolism is a battle that we’re destined to lose over the long term,” he adds. In a dramatic study last year, researchers followed 14 contestants who had all lost big (most about 100 pounds) on The Biggest Loser, and they found this to be the case. Within six years, all but one of them had regained much or all of the weight they had lost because their metabolism stalled and their levels of the hunger-regulating hormone leptin plummeted.

Put fat back on your plate

The best way to break this fattening cycle is to replace processed carbs with healthy fats, argues Dr. Ludwig: “Fats don’t raise insulin at all, so they can be a key ally for weight loss.”

That idea, of course, contradicts decades of dietary advice. Americans have long been warned about the dangers of fat, since the nutrient contains more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates and proteins. By the math alone, replacing fat with carbs seems like a good idea—but it’s not. Studies have shown that people on a low-fat diet tend to lose less weight than people on a low-carbohydrate diet.

In another twist, eating healthy fats—the types that actually support the heart, like the omega-3s in tuna and the monounsaturated fat in olive oil—does not seem to cause weight gain. A trial published last year in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology showed that people who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables and fat for five years lost more weight than those who were told to eat low-fat. A related study showed that folks who followed a high-fat diet reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by about 30 percent, while those instructed to eat a low-fat diet did not.

“After hearing for 40 years how eating fat makes you fat and how we have to count calories to control our weight, people are afraid of foods that humans have enjoyed and viewed as healthy for hundreds of years, like olive oil, nuts, avocado, fatty fish, even dark chocolate,” says Dr. Ludwig. “These foods are among the most healthful foods in existence, even though they are loaded with calories.”

Real, natural foods with fiber, protein, and fat are so satisfying, you’ll naturally eat less of them, the new thinking goes. “If the meal contains all three, then the food will move more slowly through the GI tract,” says Mira Ilic, a clinical dietitian at Cleveland Clinic. When a food takes its time passing through the body, you feel fuller longer.

Instead of choosing a meal based on calories, Ilic advises picking foods from all three categories: one high in fiber, like a vegetable or whole grain; a protein source (think: chicken or salmon); and a healthy fat, like a salad with olive oil and chopped avocado.

Listen to your body’s cues

But it’s still possible to overdo it, even on healthy foods. The biggest temptations are typically peanut butter and almond butter—when you eat them by the spoonful—and whole avocados, says Ilic. She likes the “healthy plate” method of foolproof portion control: assembling half a plate of nonstarchy vegetables, which are automatically healthy; a quarter plate of protein; and a quarter plate of quality carbs, like whole grains or legumes. Foods with healthy fats will pop up in the protein and carb parts of the plate, and if you stick to that formula, you’ll be less likely to overeat them. After creating so well-rounded a meal, you’ll find it easier to keep the amount of good fat you add to it in check.

Another way to guard against overeating healthy-but-rich foods is to slow down at the table. “A lot of people are eating way too fast,” says Ilic. “It takes a minimum of 20 minutes for the brain to pick up on satiety, the fullness of the stomach, and you miss the cue of being full if you’re eating too quickly.”

Be present to shed pounds

Recent research found that when people did a short mindfulness exercise called a body scan meditation—in which you take stock of how you feel inside—they were better able to pick up on internal cues that signal hunger and fullness. People who are more mindful have also been shown to experience fewer weight fluctuations over time.

Even though eating quality calories will help you crave treats less, there’s still room for the occasional indulgence. Dr. Ludwig is a fan of dark chocolate, which has heart, brain, and satiety benefits. If that doesn’t do it for you, you can keep the occasional cookie in the mix. “After cleaning the metabolic slate and lowering their insulin, people may be able to enjoy pastries, pasta, etcetera in moderation,” says Dr. Ludwig. If you miss these foods, he recommends experimenting to see what you can handle before cravings are triggered. “For others whose metabolism doesn’t tolerate that as much, the benefits of being in control of hunger and not having to fight cravings will be much greater than the fleeting pleasures of those processed carbohydrates.”

As for Rabe, she ended her year of dodging calories by embarking on a new one in which she embraced fat and reduced sugar. She lost about as much weight while gaining leanness, strength, and a steadier stream of energy.

“I feel so much freer to not be restricted and obsessed over calories,” she says. “I’ve made some really major changes in the quality of my diet, and I feel I can sustain them.”

Best of all, ditching the meal math renewed her love for food, so much so that she started her own cooking blog.

Rabe says she’ll never go back to counting calories. “I’m internally motivated to eat the way I do, because I enjoy it,” she says. “I like the way I feel now.”

 

By Mandy Oaklander             May 26, 2017
 


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Those Burgers Aren’t JUST Making Us Fat—They’re Messing With Our Immune Systems, Too

New research reveals that high-fat diets can impair memory and make our immune systems attack our own bodies.

A junk food diet is clearly not healthy. Burgers widen our waistlines, raise our cholesterol levels and tighten our arteries. But scientists now think that even before it shows up as additional pounds on the scale, junk food is changing our bodies in other, surprising ways. It’s actually a form of malnutrition that could be making our immune systems attack our own bodies.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Immunology, scientists at Australia’s University of New South Wales investigated a typical western diet—one that’s high in saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Specifically, they looked at the diet’s impact on immune cells called T lymphocytes, or T cells.

The researchers fed mice a high-fat diet for nine weeks to see what effect it would have on the T cells before the mice gained weight. The results surprised study leader Abigail Pollock. “Despite our hypothesis that the T cell response and capacity to eliminate invading pathogens would be weakened we actually saw the opposite: the percentage of overactive T cells increased,” she explained.

This might sound great, but having more T cells doesn’t necessarily mean your immune system is stronger. In fact, when the immune system goes into overdrive, it attacks healthy parts of the body, resulting in autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Cell membranes—the bags that hold cells together—are made up of layers of fatty lipid molecules. Looking closely at the T cells, the scientists found that having extra fats in the diet actually changed the amount of lipid molecules in the cell membrane, which in turn, said Pollock, “changes the structure of the cell, altering the responsiveness of the T cells and changing the immune response.”

Altering immunity

The team had shown previously that altering the lipid content of T cell membranes affects how they signal and activate each other, but this is the first time the effect has been shown in a living animal. More research is needed, they say, to figure out exactly what’s happening and determine which fats we could avoid to make sure our immune systems don’t go into overdrive.

Indeed, this is not the first study to show that a high-fat diet impacts the immune system; almost 20 years ago, scientists at the University of Oxford in the U.K. studied rats on diets rich in different fats. They found that the lymphocytes of rats fed a high-fat diet rich in palmitic acid grew more, whereas natural killer cells—another type of immune cell—of rats on a high-fat diet rich in stearic acid grew much less.

More recently, scientists at the University of Ulsan in South Korea compared obese mice on a high-fat diet and non-obese mice on a normal diet, and found that the obese mice had significantly lower levels of immune cells, including T cells, in their lymph nodes, where the immune cells wait until they are needed by the body. The lymph nodes near the intestine were much lighter in the obese mice and contained far fewer T cells than those of the control mice.

The scientists concluded that the accumulation of fat around the organs—visceral fat—due to a high-fat diet causes cells in the lymph nodes to self-destruct: “Dietary fat-induced visceral obesity may be crucial for obesity-related immune dysfunction,” they explained.

A high-fat diet won’t only affect your immune system; it could also impair your memory—and that of your kids. When they fed pregnant mice a diet high in lard, scientists at Capital Medical University in China found that the fat in their offspring’s brain was altered. The authors explain in their study: “Our research demonstrated that long-term high lard diet […] changed the brain fatty acids composition and damaged the memory and learning ability of mice.”

What’s in your burger and fries?

A junk food diet is rich in fat, but there are all sorts of other harmful things lurking in there too. Firstly, junk food is highly palatable—it tastes good. This makes us eat more and more, which is an even bigger problem because it’s also very high in calories. A small cheeseburger is 300 calories, the same as a whole (nutritious) meal. And you would rarely just eat a cheeseburger; adding fries (230 calories) and a soda (170 calories) takes the total to a whopping 700.

An excessive calorie intake leads to obesity, which has an impact on the immune system. Norwegian researchers found that being overweight led to inflammation—a sign of an overactive immune response. They studied this on a molecular level, to establish a link between metabolism, inflammation, heart attack and stroke. Their theory is that overeating provides our cells with too much energy and the tiny cellular engines—mitochondria—can stall.

“We believe that long-term stress on the mitochondria may cause metaflammation,” explained Dr. Arne Yndestad of Oslo University Hospital. “A metaflammation is a low-grade chronic inflammation over many years, and unfortunately it’s a condition that’s difficult to detect.”

There’s more. According to World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) we eat on average 8.1 grams of salt a day—about a third more than the recommended 6 grams. Junk food is high in salt; a junk food meal can tip you over the limit of your daily intake.

What’s the problem? Salt is implicated in making our immune systems go haywire. In three separate studies published in Nature, scientists showed that high salt intake increase production of T cells, taking them to harmful levels. One of the studies showed that feeding mice with multiple sclerosis a high salt diet made their disease progress faster.

One of the researchers, Dr. Vijay Kuchroo of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, points out that the evidence is not yet definitive, but “is building a very interesting hypothesis [that] salt may be one of the environmental triggers of autoimmunity” and that it’s not yet possible to predict the effect salt has on autoimmunity and the development of diseases like type 1 diabetes.

 

Not-so-happy meals

As if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s a bleak picture for kids too. In 2015, WASH carried out an international study on the salt content of children’s meals, concluding that 8 out of 10 meals had more than 1 gram of salt per serving, tipping the maximum recommended serving per meal.

“The more salt you eat as a child, the more likely you are to have serious health issues in later life,” said Prof. Graham MacGregor, WASH chairman and professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London. “This can include high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, heart disease, osteoporosis and kidney disease. That is why it is vitally important that children do not get used to the taste of salt.”

Unfortunately, our kids might be at a disadvantage from the outset: the gut bacteria they inherit can have an impact on their immune health. Babies get their gut bacteria—their microbiota—from their mothers at birth and this continues to be shaped through breastfeeding. The microbiota is known to have an impact on our immunity; Spanish researchers found that children with type 1 diabetes had different gut bacteria compared to healthy children.

In his review “Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity,” Dr. Ian Myles of the National Institutes of Health gives an overview of what we know about the effects of a western diet on the immune system. The bacteria found in children’s intestines can have a surprisingly big impact, he says. “Our bodies are a kind of mini-ecosystem, and anything that disturbs our bacteria can alter our health in profound ways,” he said in an interview with Time.

They might also be inheriting a genetic preference for unhealthy food. Researchers at Imperial College London have identified a gene linked to cravings for high-calorie foods. They asked 45 people to look at photos of high- and low-calorie foods and rate how appealing they were, and monitored their brain activity. They found that people with a particular genetic change near a gene called FTO who preferred high calorie foods had more activity in parts of the brain linked to pleasure. This, say the researchers, means people with this genetic trait will find it harder to avoid junk food. And if it’s written in our DNA, there’s a chance we can pass it on to our kids.

Even more reason to stop bombarding them with adverts for junk food. Children’s food choices are strongly influenced by advertising, and many countries are already responding by restricting advertising to kids.

Immune-boosting alternatives

Switching off the TV is one way to cut junk food cravings and intake, and therefore protect our immune systems. And the same researchers who found the genetic variants that cause food cravings also found a dietary supplement that can stop those cravings. But there are plenty of other things that can boost our immunity.

The problem with junk food isn’t just the bad ingredients it contains; it’s also the good ingredients it doesn’t contain. You won’t find vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in a fast food meal, but a study by U.K. scientists revealed that these vegetables switch on immune cells in the intestines, which they say explains the link between diet and immunity.

Junk food is also low in fiber, which is known to boost immunity. According to one study, dietary fiber encourages friendly bacteria to grow in the intestine. These lactic acid bacteria can boost immunity, so eating foods that help them grow—like fiber-rich prebiotics, fermented vegetables and raw garlic—could strengthen your immune system.

Immune-boosting antioxidants are also hard to find in your hamburger (unless it’s topped with mushrooms), so eating plenty of sweet potato, elderberry and low-fat yogurt will help.

In his review on fast food fever, Dr. Myles wrote: “While today’s modern diet may provide beneficial protection from micro- and macronutrient deficiencies, our over abundance of calories and the macronutrients that compose our diet may all lead to increased inflammation, reduced control of infection, increased rates of cancer, and increased risk for allergic and auto-inflammatory disease.”

So the next time you’re tempted by a meal deal, consider cooking up some vegetables with chicken and a refreshing yogurt and berry dessert instead. Your immune system—and your memory—will thank you for it.

By Lucy Goodchild Van Hilten / AlterNet September 30, 2016
Lucy Goodchild van Hilten is a freelance writer. Read more of her work at telllucy.com.